Hippodrome (Sultanahmet Square)

The Hippodrome, also known as Sultanahmet Square has been the center of Roman Empire, Byzantium until the 10th century. It was built in AD 203 by the Roman Emperor Septimus Severus. Then it was 117 m wide and 480 m long and had capacity of 100,000 spectators. Most important monuments of Istanbul Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum and Basilica Cistern are located around it.

At past, chariot races were very popular activities for entertainment. But, supporting a team was not only for fun, it also reflected political class you supported. The two major teams were the Blues or the Greens. The Blues were the middle and upper classes with orthodox religion beliefs. The Greens, on the other hand, were the lower class with radical religion beliefs. These two sides joined together against Emperor Justinianus during races in AD 531 resulting in a revolt called Nika (victory) revolt. The crowds marched towards the palace and burned the outer periphery. The revolt took days, at times it seemed that Emperor Justianus' days were numbered. His general Narses made a Byzantine trick and was able to quash the revolts. Which trick?

It is extremely interesting to read about Nika riots as it sheds lights to not only Byzantium politics but also comtemporary politics. 30.000 people died in this revolt. After the revolt the chariot racies were banned for a long time to come.

During the Fourth Crusade the building of Hippodrome was destroyed and many of the statues were looted. Some of the horse statues are in San Marco Square in Venice. After the conquest of Istanbul and the construction of Blue Mosque Hippodrome lost its importance and became a place for Ottomans to raise and train their horses. Today it is called At Meydani, meaning literally Horse Square.

Unfortunately, many of the monuments could not stand until today, however, three of them are well preserved: Serpentine Column, Obelisk of Theodosius and Walled Obelisk.

Serpentine Column was covered with a golden bowl supported by three serpent heads. Serpent heads were lost during Crusaders however, they were found later and now are showed at Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum.

Obelisk of Theodosius was brought from Egypt by Roman Emperor Theodosius I in 390 and erected near the Serpentine Column.

In the 10th century, another obelisk covered with bronze plaque was built by order of the Emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitus at the other end of the Hippodrome which is called Walled Obelisk.

In addition, in the middle of the square, German Fountain was built in memory of German Emperor Kayzer Wilhelm's visit to Istanbul in 1898.


Hippodrome is walking distance from everywhere in Sultanahmet and very easy to reach by tram from Taksim (with funiculaire connection down to Kabatas and the tram to Sultanahmet) and other locations in European Istanbul.

If you visit Hippodrome in Ramadan a small marketplace is established similar to market places in other cities in Europe during Christmas. This small bazaar includes a lot of mini shops with traditional clothes and food. It is an opportunity to buy some presents, taste samples from Turkish and Ottoman cuisines or have your name written with Ottoman caligraphy.

Hippodrome on Istanbul Map